Leaders: Myth and Reality Hardcover – 23 Oct 2018
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"Whenever Stanley McChrystal talks, I take notes. I am so drawn to his ability to cut through pop culture theories about leadership to get to the core of what actually makes a leader. Leaders takes us deeper than most other leadership books into the true and often messy mechanics of leadership. Anyone who considers themselves a student of leadership must read this book." -- Simon Sinek, Optimist and author of Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last
"Leaders reexamines old notions of leadership--especially the outdated view that history is shaped by great men going it alone. General McChrystal shows us that leadership can take many forms, leaders often have different strengths, and great leaders can come from anywhere. -- Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org and OptionB.Org
About the Author
STANLEY McCHRYSTAL retired from the US Army as a four-star general after thirty-four years of service. His previous books, My Share of the Task and Team of Teams, were both New York Times bestsellers. He is a senior fellow at Yale University's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and a partner at the McChrystal Group, a leadership consulting firm based in Virginia.JEFF EGGERS served for twenty years as a US Navy SEAL and also in government as a special assistant to the president for National Security Affairs. He is now executive director of the McChrystal Group Leadership Institute. JASON MANGONE served for four years in the US Marine Corps, followed by positions at the Aspen Institute, the Service Year Alliance, and the New York City Department of Veterans' Services.
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The lives themselves show how little there is in common between thought leadership (Alfred Einstein), military leadership (Robert E Lee) and political leadership ('power brokers' in the terminology of the book) such as Margaret Thatcher. Or indeed 'heroes' such as Harriet Tubman.
Rather McChrystal tries to bring to life academic thinking about leadership, reflected in his final chapter, that sees leadership as an emergent property of specific contexts and leaders as symbolic representations of the hopes and fears of their followers. This is a dynamic system, and leaders may need training in story-telling and how to dress for the part, as well as to understand that there simply aren't 'off the shelf' solutions to individual problems. Sometimes, after heartsearching, Martin Luther King went to jail as part of a protest and sometimes he didn't. Always there were people he didn't please. Generally it worked out well. Churchill by contrast was always characteristised by the audacity of his thinking. Sometimes this worked out well and was what a situation called for. Sometimes it wasn't. But he was also always good a story telling...
I didn't find the book all that compellingly well written; nor despite the best efforts of the authors did I find it a page-turner. But I did think it provided great scope for thought. The grounding of the leadership theory in the leadership lives makes what is otherwise quite dull (as well as counter-intuitive) thinking come alive; and gives it considerable credibility.
Briefly this. The choice of leadership is refreshingly new. Not often are Walt Disney, Coco Chanel and Leonard Bernstein examined for leadership qualities. Robespierre, Harriet Tubman, and William Tweed, hardly ever. There are ten chapters covering :the aforementioned plus Martin Luther King, Robert E Lee, Einstein, and others under headings, heroes, zealots, geniuses, founders, power brokers, and reformers. Other chapters are devoted to myths, and redefining leadership.
This book demonstrates that leadership can and does take many forms. Great leaders emerge from anywhere. Leadership.is a notoriously complex thing. A leader can be an upright God-fearing man or a thug like Al Capone. the authors have produced a shrewd and intelligent account of the subject. Female leaders have not been overlooked.
McChrystal paints his family background, his time at West Point and his armed service in Afghanistan where he spent just under five years as head of the Joint Special Operations Command. He explains how he had to revise and adapt his long held views on what constituted leadership. Many myths were destroyed along the way. Theory often failed to gel with practice. As the authors say, we lack a general theory of leadership on a par with Einstein's general theory of relativty.
This book is a modest attempt to begin a quest for that theory. Thirteen famous leaders have been selected in six pairs and one solo, Lee. The structure is based on Plutarch's famous 'Lives'. Not all were good leaders, or even good people. Some were lucky and some failed. Standard leadership models are challenged but there is no intent to prescribe.
An excellent addition to current books on leadership.
One caveat. It is a pity that space wasn't found.to distinguish leadership and management for the two although fundamentally different are often treated as the same.
As an academic, some of the points made about leadership don't exactly seem rocket science. But actually there's a crispness and analytical precision which show that the authors really spent time developing sophisticated thinking, which they then condense down to make it a page-turner rather than academic tract. I think this is a really timely book when one marries the description of myths with many of the political crises we see emerging. Leadership is everything, but often we just need to return to first principles and ask why we see it as so. This book does that.
So far, I'd particularly recommend turning to read about Walt Disney, Leonard Bernstein and Coco Chanel! I wish more of my dad's military books read like this.